116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Time Machine: The unsolved murder of a loan officer
Mar. 4, 2018 7:00 am
Downtown Cedar Rapids in 1959 was a busy place, with shoppers and business people on the street, especially during the lunch hour. But no one — apparently — saw who murdered a quiet, polite loan officer going about his daily business.
The De Var restaurant at 312 Second Ave. SE was serving lunch Oct. 15 when Thomas McMurrin and Donald McSpadden burst through the door and went straight to Patrolman Donald Hollister.
The two men said they'd gone to the office of Family Finance Corp., upstairs from the restaurant, to apply for a loan. When they walked into the office just after 11:30 a.m., they discovered the manager, Frederick Leonard Coste, lying in a pool of blood in an interview booth.
Hollister immediately called police headquarters. Detectives George Matias and Roy Walker and Identification Officer T.C. McDermott were sent to investigate, with Deputy Linn County Coroner Dr. Percy Harris close behind.
Harris said Coste, 47, had been punched in the eye and then stabbed six times in the chest with a broad-bladed knife, possibly a hunting knife. He said Coste had been dead for less than two hours when his body was discovered.
Coste had been working alone in the office that day. His secretary had taken another job three weeks earlier.
Police Chief Carl Badger reported at 2 that afternoon no clues or murder weapon had been found.
Louis Christianson, manager of the Family Finance office in Davenport and former manager of the Cedar Rapids office, arrived Thursday evening. After he checked the books, he told police $258.85 was missing.
Further investigation showed records from two loan recipients also were missing.
One person reported seeing someone running from the area at 11:25 a.m., though no one could be found to corroborate that story.
Capt. John Kuba, a police detective, said evidence showed Coste had been killed between 11:10 and 11:35 a.m.
Chief Badger urged anyone with information to come forward.
'We urge any citizen who may have seen a suspicious looking person or people in the area between 11 and 12:30 to contact us immediately,' he said. 'We want anybody who believes he may have any information pertaining to the case to come forward, no matter how trivial it may seem. We need all the help we can get.'
Police questioned three suspects over a period of 12 hours, but all were released. Two of them were the men who had found Coste's body, police said.
The third suspect, whose name was withheld, was found in possession of a knife with traces of blood and flesh on it. It was taken to the FBI laboratory in Washington to be analyzed. The results showed the blood was not human.
All three men agreed to take lie detector tests administered by professor Richard Holcomb of the University of Iowa. The results showed McMurrin and McSpadden were telling the truth, but the unnamed suspect's results were questionable.
Kuba, the detective, theorized the assailant had hit Coste in the eye, then stabbed him. Blood from the attack was found on the office walls, cash drawers beneath the counter, desk drawers and the door to the office, but there were no fingerprints.
Less than a week later, little progress had been made in finding Coste's killer. The chief said scores of people had been interviewed, but 'we have been unable to establish a definite motive for the crime.'
The five detectives who were assigned to the case continued to gather and process evidence.
'We are making a comprehensive background check of the victim, company procedures and records,' Badger said.
On Oct. 24, someone who wished to remain anonymous offered a $2,500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the killer. That amount was added to a $200 reward already offered by the Iowa Consumer Finance Association.
The announcement of the reward brought several new leads, but none panned out.
Within a month of the murder, Family Finance was advertising for a managerial trainee at its new office at 115 First Ave. SE.
As the new year rolled around, the Coste murder remained unsolved.
'One by one, the meager clues proved of little or no value,' The Gazette reported.
Police thought robbery could have been the motive, but it also could have been someone angry at being denied a loan.
A year later, the killer was still unknown. By then, police believed the killer was a transient robber with no ties to Cedar Rapids.
Five years later, the case file at the detective bureau was a foot thick. But the leads had all gone cold.
Coste, a World War II veteran, had worked for Family Finance for more than 18 years, coming to Cedar Rapids in August 1958.
He was described by his neighbors on A Avenue NE as quiet and well-mannered. His family — his wife, mother and 7-year-old daughter — returned to their home in Atlanta, Ga., where Coste was buried.
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